Prenatal Vitamins - What to Know and When to Start

One of the first recommendations you get in the beginning stages of pregnancy is to start taking a prenatal vitamin. But current grocery stores and pharmacies don’t always make this a simple task. There are so many to choose from! There are some you take one of per day. Some you take two of per day. There are pills. There are gummies. There are some with iron. Others without iron. Is any option really better than the other? Or is anything with the label “PRENATAL” just fine? Our blog today will attempt to tackle these questions and give you a better idea of nutritional requirements during pregnancy, as well as help you make an educated decision on which prenatal you may decide to start taking.

What makes prenatal vitamins so good for pregnancy?
One of the major benefits of taking a prenatal vitamin has to do with the folic acid component found in virtually all prenatal vitamins. Folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, has been shown to prevent neural tube defects in a developing baby, especially in the first trimester as the foundation of the brain and spinal cord are forming (1). Neural tube defects include conditions such spina bifida (2), where the baby’s neural tube does not close all the way and can lead to spinal cord damage, and anencephaly (3), where the upper half of the neural tube does not close all the way and the baby is born without parts of his/her brain or skull. Women who receive the recommended amount of folic acid during their pregnancy are less likely to give birth to babies with neural tube defects.

Another thing found in many prenatals is supplemental iron. In pregnancy, your body is producing more blood cells to accommodate your growing baby. This requires more iron stores to accomplish.

What should I look for on the back of the label?
The biggest thing to look for on the back of a prenatal vitamin label is whether or not it contains folic acid and iron, and whether it has the appropriate amount of these nutrients in each dose.

It is recommended that women who are pregnant receive at least 600 mcg/day of folic acid. Most prenatal vitamins should have at least 400 mcg per dose (1). The remaining 200mcg/day can be obtained by eating foods rich in this vitamin. These include:
Dark leafy greens (Spinach, Romaine, Asparagus, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli)
Sunflower Seeds
Whole Grains
Fresh Fruits and Fruit Juices
Liver (if you’re feeling adventurous!)

It is recommended that women who are pregnant receive at least 27 mg/day of iron (1) This is the amount found in most prenatal vitamins. You can also eat foods rich in heme-iron (which is absorbed more easily) such as:
Red meat
*All of which should be well-cooked during pregnancy
Or non-heme iron such as:

Are there side effects?

Prenatal vitamins typically do not carry many severe side effects (1).

Supplements with iron in them can cause constipation. Incorporating enough fiber into your diet and drinking enough fluids can help relieve this.

Some women experience nausea after taking a prenatal vitamin in pill form. Avoid taking pills on an empty stomach and drink a full glass of water with each dose.

Speak with your doctor if you develop unwanted side effects from your prenatal vitamin and work with him or her to find the best solution.

When should I start taking them?

Because babies’ neural tubes develop in the first trimester of pregnancy, it is recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as possible to prevent neural tube defects. You can take prenatal vitamins as soon as you find out you are pregnant, and you can even take them if you are not pregnant yet but are sexually active or if you are trying to conceive. Taking a prenatal vitamin at least one month prior to conception is ideal (4).

It is recommended to establish care with a licensed OB/GYN as soon as possible after finding out you are pregnant. Your OB/GYN is an excellent resource in recommendations for prenatal vitamins and other supplements or medications you may need during pregnancy. Discuss your prenatal vitamin usage with your doctor.

Don’t have an OB/GYN yet? We can help with that! Book an appointment here to speak with our team about establishing prenatal care with a local doctor and to learn the next steps to take in your pregnancy.

*The information contained in this blog is for educational and informative purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice and care of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.*


(1) The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2021). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to month (7th ed.). American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
(2) is a type of,and close as it should.